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Germany

Mother of killed soldier wants to take military to court

The mother of a German soldier who died in Afghanistan is seeking to sue the Defense Ministry and the Bundeswehr - arguing that better equipment and training could have prevented her son's death.

German soldier in Afghanistan

The Afghanistan mission is deeply unpopular in Germany

Public prosecutors are investigating whether insufficient equipment and training by the German military can be held responsible for the death of a soldier in Afghanistan. The mother of the paratrooper brought the charges after her son died in a roadside blast near Kunduz on Good Friday 2010.

On April 2, Nils Bruns and his unit were ordered to provide backup for a group of German troops who had been caught in an ambush. Bruns was fatally wounded when an explosive device went off underneath an armored vehicle as he walked past it. The 35-year old was rushed to a field hospital where he died from his injuries.

In a letter to the prosecutors, Bruns' mother said she was convinced that the death of her son could and should have been prevented.

"The unit of first sergeant Nils Bruns was left to die a miserable death as a result of military aid knowingly being withheld," German news magazine Spiegel quotes from the letter.

A casualty of war - or of poor equipment and training?

Hellmut Koenigshaus

Koenigshaus says he understands the mother's struggle

Bruns' mother claims her son should not have been sent out on that day. She backs up her claim by pointing to the annual report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Germany's Armed Forces, which in recent years has regularly stated that equipment and training for the troops were not up to standard.

"It is of course understandable that the relatives of soldiers who died are questioning whether it was really an inevitable incident or whether, with better equipment or a different strategy, the deaths could perhaps have been prevented," Hellmut Koenigshaus, who has held the post of Parliamentary Commissioner since May 2010, told Deutsche Welle.

He concedes that the situation in Afghanistan has continually declined over the last years and that the worsening situation requires a constant adjustment of equipment and training.

"The relatives are of course asking whether these adjustments really have been implemented."

That there are problems with equipment and training cannot be denied. One example Koenigshaus gives is that soldiers in Germany train with armored vehicles lighter than those they'll be using in Afghanistan. They then have to adjust to the new situation on the job - when they should be concentrating on Taliban insurgents rather than on how to operate their vehicles.

"The soldiers themselves are very outspoken in their criticism," Koenigshaus said. "They say that politicians promised the best available equipment to protect them, but there is a sense that they are not getting that equipment - or not as quickly as they should."

The coffins of dead German soldiers being unloaded from a military plane

Critics of Germany's military mission in Afghanistan hope the case will at least focus more attention on troop casualties

More casualties expected

Experts are cautious about the mother's chances of success with her case. Linking the immediate circumstances of a soldier's death to a lack of equipment or training will be very difficult, they say.

"Still, I can only hope that the prosecutors really take this case seriously and really investigate independently - that's what the relatives of the victims deserve," says member of parliament Paul Schaefer. He's the defense expert of the Left party, the only party that's outspokenly against the Afghanistan mission.

"I really understand their bitterness, but of course it needs to be thoroughly investigated whether this can really be attributed to a lack of equipment or whether this is the result of the war the soldiers are engaged in."

The German Defense Ministry has declined to comment on the case while investigations are ongoing. A spokesperson merely confirmed that Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had "personally met the mother and was open to talking directly with her again any time."

Guttenberg in Afghanistan

Defense Minister Guttenberg faces hefty criticism over troop training and equipment

The German military is in Afghanistan as part of NATO's international ISAF mission. 43 German troops and two policemen have so far lost their lives in the country and the country's military deployment is widely unpopular in Germany.

Earlier this week NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told German media that the casualties in Afghanistan were likely to rise in the future as international troops and Afghan forces were about to step up their offensive against the Taliban insurgency.

"The case can certainly serve to create a certain sensitivity so that casualities in Afghanistan are not accepted just like that," the Left party's Schaefer says. "It's good if these things get properly investigated. The same goes of course for incidents in which German troops are responsible for Afghan deaths."

Author: Andreas Illmer
Editor: Susan Houlton

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